Today I talked with four different young people about some pretty big stuff. Three guys in a row were trying to figure out how to talk to family about what there were going through. One had already tried and had been told they were ‘wrong about themselves’. Another had shared parts and the third was wondering about how to ease Mum and Dad into the bigger picture.
Seeing a counsellor at school can be pretty daunting, so it was really great when one guy said ‘wassup bro’ as he left in a friendly acknowledgement to the other guy waiting to see me. It was a simple transaction of recognition that left me feeling at peace and sad that others might be out there without a support network.
The thing is I’m working at an ‘all girls’ school and these guys are all on their own unique journeys of gender identity but all of them see themselves as male. It is interesting listening to what their main needs and concerns are about school, compared to what I hear teachers and parents sometimes naming as the ‘big issues’. Sometimes they overlap but I’d like to share just a couple of simple things that have come through generally from school students. This is by no means a checklist but might help as a starting point:
- Understand that how someone identifies in terms of gender/sex does not determine their sexuality. Who people are into might change, it might not. There is no ‘formula’ for balancing it all out into some kind of common expression.
- Asking personal questions about people’s bodies and ‘parts’ and whether they are going to have (or have had) surgery is not cool – neither is trying to ‘feel’ what’s down there! Looking up horror stories online and sharing can be traumatic and upsetting. Asking what pronouns or names people prefer is a more respectful and easy way to show acceptance and support. You can also look at supporting someone to talk to a GP about options, for example, getting onto hormones that help the body change gears and become more like the preferred sex/gender.
- Recognise they are the same person so, if they come out as trans*, they do not get some other downloaded identity and show up the next day a completely different person. Keep calm and carry on what you talked about the day before – also respect their privacy – do not tell people unless they have said it’s ok – but I’d still be careful.
- Get some GOOD information – go to the RainbowYOUTH website or check out whatever local LGBT+ support services you have. Remember, if you go to overseas sites for information, it might not apply to New Zealand.
- Finally – for parents: Young people want to protect parents from hurt and upset, but they also want your support and it’s ok to be confused, not understand or not know how to respond. Something I encourage any parent to do is to notice the clues young people give about the sexuality or gender and not to dismiss them. ASK: ‘Are you questioning your sexuality?’ ‘Are you questioning your gender?’ Hugs are a good response and so are tears – hugs also allow you to talk while not looking at the person, a handy and often overlooked benefit. Get support, again RainbowYOUTH has excellent resources. Maintaining privacy is really important. In my role as a counsellor, one of the biggest differences to the well-being of young trans people is parent support, and there IS support for parents.
While big changes like bathrooms and uniform options are important, it is in the daily trans-actions we have with each other that respect and support are generated.
The mass shooting at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando USA, has likely stirred many conversations. I wonder how we make sense of these sorts of events here in New Zealand. The thing is, while I can imagine the terror of being at the venue, I can’t comprehend that level of violence based on some form of fear.
It’s important to keep perspective and recognise our own judgements and assumptions. Three communities are in the spotlight: the LGBTQI+ and Latinx communities; and those of strong religious faiths, particularly Muslim and Christian.
So we might not have the kind of violence other countries seem to experience, but maybe we have other forms of violence that do not get recognised. Like making groups of people ‘disappear’ so they don’t exist.
When I talked to a bunch of counsellors recently, some of whom worked in schools, they shared with me how Principals do not see LGBTQI+ students as needing any form of recognition or place of safety. Some schools seem concerned that acknowledging this community existed would potentially bring protests from parents or others.
Uniforms forcing young people to fit specific gender roles also stop diversity being expressed and, if you want to identify as something other than your assigned sex, then you have to submit to the violence of a psychiatric diagnosis.
So – no mass shootings in NZ, just mass ‘shooings’ – like, “Shoo, you pesky rainbow people, you are messing with our perfectly heteronormative, gender defined image.”
But right now my thoughts are with the LGBTQI+ community in Orlando. Sending messages of support could be a way to bring visibility to our own community and discuss the other forms of violence going on in our schools.
Let’s also open up discussions about religion. I think schools need to do this because pretending people ditch their beliefs at the gate closes down opportunities to look at the complexity of identity.
The following tweet turned up in my feed from Susie Sirman, from Alberta, Canada, a self-confessed “high school science and art teacher, learning coach, edtech enthusiast, busy mom and a terrible choice to follow on Twitter.” So I followed her. But anyway, her tweet:
Simply putting them all in the same room isn’t inclusion. #ulead16
— Susie Sirman (@SusieSirman) April 25, 2016
I like the model (further tweets between us revealed it isn’t hers) and I agree with it to an extent. Simply putting different people in the same room isn’t useful, but I think it is, unfortunately, what inclusion is about currently. It isn’t, however, diversity.
So I wondered, using this model, what diversity would look like and, just out of interest, how it might differ from assimilation. I changed the colours of the dots for aesthetic reasons as you’ll see below. And here’s what I came up with:
Assimilation is when “different” people are included as long as they take on the “colour” of the majority, ie. beliefs, values, behaviour etc., in order to be accepted. This is often the result of our current model of inclusion.
True diversity, however, is when all parties are able to learn about each other’s similarities and differences — or uniqueness and commonality — and, as such, colours blend, creating a new set of values, beliefs and behaviours, unique to the group. As a result, the colour of the group — or its culture — also changes.
This post originally appeared on www.philippatston.com